Allie: How did you wind up in DC?
Nikki: I applied to be a part of the Avodah Jewish Service Corps, which is a year-long Jewish service program. At 22, didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally, but knew I wanted to be part of repairing the world and Avodah gave me the opportunity to figure it out. I appreciated that it had a Jewish lens because Judaism has always been very important to my life.
Allie: Why is Judaism important to you?
Nikki: My answer changes depending on where I am in life. Right now, my first thought is my wedding, future family, and future career path. But, 10 years ago, it would have been about how I’m building relationships with people and what volunteer work I’m doing. 10 years before that it was “Who am I?”.
At this point in my life, I’m planning a Jewish wedding with my fiancé, but what an interfaith marriage means to us is different from what our parents had. I’ve been thinking about what my parents did for me in creating our home – like having family dinners consistently be a part of our Jewish practice and valuing education so much. It’s no mistake that I wound up working in education as a profession.
Judaism has always been an easy thing to turn to if I was scared, or unsure, or joyful. It’s very moldable and flexible.
Allie: Tell me about your experience with Avodah?
Nikki: It was kind of like Real World: the Jewish DC edition. 24 of us in two houses; where people explored their faith and things got real. It was an awesome experience where we learned how to use our Judaism to be agents of change.
We had house meetings, everything was communal. We once had a 2-hour long discussion about whether or not to buy a crock pot for the house. We all had jobs outside the house, and mine was at DC SCORES as the Community Outreach Coordinator. That professional experience was transformative for me.
Allie: What led you to work as a teacher in special education?
Nikki: I knew from an early age I wanted to be a teacher, and my job at DC SCORES allowed me a chance to work within schools all over the city. My biggest reason for specializing in teaching students with disabilities was my younger sister, Dana. She has ADHD and always struggled in school growing up – mostly because the environments she was in could not adjust to her style of learning. It was then I knew I wanted to be a part of creating a more inclusive learning classroom for all the Dana’s out there that just needed a teacher who “gets it” – and many of us do!
So I made a decision to get a Masters in Teaching Students with Moderate Disabilities at Lesley University and go into special education, specifically inclusive education using Universal Design to fit the classroom to my students’ needs. It was the best decision I ever made.
I’ve enjoyed working to unravel the science of learning with my students – it’s similar to taking apart a puzzle and rebuilding it in a totally different way. Watching students make progress who previously believed they couldn’t is always the best part of my day.
My partner also works in the disability field, and he recently started a unified rugby team for kids of all abilities called Washington Wolf Pack. I’m their social media manager.
Allie: What’s your dream DC day from start to finish?
Nikki: I’d wake up without an alarm, and immediately have a delicious espresso. From there, I’d walk to the Arboretum and spend time walking and reading there. I’d have some delicious sandwich for lunch – I love sandwiches – and then spend time with people that I like. It seems simple, but so are the best things in life.
Allie: What do you do to relax?
Nikki: I love reading science fiction, especially on a hammock. Science fiction has a way of taking me away from whatever I’m feeling or thinking.
Allie: What are you most excited about for the coming Jewish New Year?
Nikki: I’m excited that, this year feels like a big personal year. I’m excited to be in my 30’s and take more time for me this year.
Allie: What’s on your life bucket list?
Nikki: I want to start learning rock climbing. And pottery. I have a whole list of “maybe this is my new thing” hobbies I want to check off this year!
Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Nikki: I love Passover. It’s so moldable to whatever is happening is the world now. I’ve seen some pretty interesting ways to interpret Passover to understand various human rights issues that are closer to us (in time and location) than our Exodus from Egypt. My partner and I have taken our own approach to celebrating Passover a little differently and added new items to the seder plate. That has been the first time I’ve seen him get really engaged in our Jewish home. It feels like something we’ve built together. My favorite new seder plate item of ours is something he came up with: a radish to represent people with disabilities. Often overlooked in value or placed there to be a decorative item, the radish offers incredible nutritional value when fully included in the dish.
Allie: What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
Nikki: I was an All-American cheerleader in high school, and used to competitively dance. I channel a LOT of that team spirit and kinesthetic movement in my teaching.
Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…
Nikki: There’s a lot of laughter and delicious food!
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